First look inside new Knox County middle schools

Local News

Many Knox County children will be going to school much closer to home in the fall. Work is wrapping up on the new Hardin Valley and Gibbs middle schools. A ribbon cutting is scheduled July 10. 

Freddie Cox, the IT infrastructure manager for Knox County Schools, says the schools together make up the “largest wireless deployment” in the district. Each classroom is equipped with interactive touchscreen panels, for the students and teacher to use. 

Ben Sharble, the Knox County Supervisor, explains the county oversaw the construction of the schools. The county, as a governing body, was able to bid out a design build, rather than a traditional procurement method. Sharble explains that would have meant the school district bid out the contractor and design team separately, build the school in phases, and the cost adjust throughout the process. With this method, “all the risk is on the contractor,” he explained. 

Hardin Valley is built for 1,200 students. The design/build for Hardin Valley cost taxpayers more than $34 million, while the total cost is not yet released.

Karns Middle will see some relief from the new middle school, as it’s a school built from 1,200-1,400 students, but currently has nearly 2,000, according to Sharble. Gibbs is built for a maximum of 800 students, but the principal says it will have between 480-500 in its first year. The bulk of those students will come from Gibbs Elementary and Corryton Elementary. 

The bill for the schools, according a county spokesperson, is through capital bonds paid by debt service funds of both the school and county over the next 20 years. 

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett calls the building of both middle schools “a game of chess.” Because he thought a Gibbs Middle School was long overdue, for him, it was all or nothing. When the district put out their plans for Hardin Valley a couple years ago, he countered their plans with two middle schools.

It was all or nothing,” Burchett explained. “There was maneuvering by the school, county and law department. It was a struggle getting everyone to the table, my ego, their ego, ultimately it’s the kids we need to be worried about,” he said.

His support for Gibbs, he continued, is for the generations living in the area who feel left out.

“The rub is always West Knoxville gets everything. I said I want this school to be as nice or nicer than anything else in the county and I think you’ll see it is a spectacular school.” 

He says the addition will help the Gibbs area expand.

“You can’t shoehorn another subdivision in West Knoxville, it’s coming here. I’ve talked to relators already and they’ve said this [the new school] has been a selling point for them.” 

Cindy White, principal of Gibbs Middle, is excited to be starting a new school year in a brand new school. White explains Gibbs will be a one to one school, meaning every child will have a laptop. 
She says the community has already expressed a desire to get involved with their new middle school.

“I can’t even adequately describe how excited they are that they actually have a complete feeder pattern in their community.” 

While the buildings are both built for the most part, it’s now up to White and her staff as well as the people at Hardin Valley to build a school culture.

“I think the school culture starts with involving the entire community. It, to me, starts with putting the right staff in place. and we have done that.”

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